All Patricia could see as she peered into the hallway through the small glass window in her office door was a row of knees in faded blue jeans and other work pants. She sighed. She’d grown up in this small rural community. She knew many of the people who’d come today. They’d always worked hard, taken good care of their children, and gone to church. The housing crash that had led to this recession wasn’t their fault. It was horrible that she only had one small job to give out today, one poorly paid position for some desperate person with a household of dependents.
She clicked her tongue and sat at her computer to scan the files once more. The work center required her to pick the most qualified candidate for each job, but something had broken inside her this morning when she realized the situation, and she just couldn’t bring herself to tell all but one person to go home, not that many of them had homes to go to anymore.
Still she had to select someone, or else she’d lose her job, and her children would be the ones without a roof over their heads. Their father had left town two months ago, after the farm equipment place where he’d worked laid him off. He’d hoped there would be more opportunities in a larger city, but so far all he’d found was a minimum wage position doing part-time maintenance for a hotel. She looked over at the photo of him and their three kids next to her monitor and made up her mind to choose the person with the most children, one whose spouse was also unemployed. If her family was in need, she’d hope someone would help them out, wouldn’t she? Silly, she supposed, but how else was she supposed to decide? Who needed any qualifications to post signs on foreclosed homes?
Biting her lip, she chose a man with five kids under the age of ten. He’d do. Please God, tomorrow would be a better day, and there’d be more jobs, good paying ones, to hand out.
As soon as she opened the door, all of the people stood, their desperate eyes searching her face, and she wanted to cry. Their clothes hung off of them, especially the men, men who had once been strong ranch hands and construction workers, perhaps even ranch owners and contractors. Many of them stank, from living out of their cars or in tents on BLM land. Each morning they came here, with hope in their hearts, and each morning she sent more of them away, jobless.
It was awful, and now all she had was one measly assignment, pasting signs on homes they perhaps used to own.
“Mark Nolan,” she said, the name catching in her throat. “The rest of you can leave.”
All but one head dropped and they shuffled away. Mr. Nolan patted each of their backs as they left. Once they were gone, she told him where to meet his temporary employer, then she went into her office, locked the door, and stared at the screen for a long time, not seeing a thing.
Thank you to jnk2 at Freeimages.com for the photo.